The female powerhouses at Samoa Cancer Society
Samoa Cancer Society is run by a troupe of exceptional women. To mark International Women’s Day, we speak to their marketing manager, community outreach officer and finance officer, to learn about how they work, their role models, and what international women’s day means to them.
How does being a woman affect how you go about your work?
Tiana Silipia Levao, Community Outreach Officer: Me being a woman, I know I can do what men can do! You can have confidence. I realised a lot of men do really well in communication, and facing the community, because they are Matai. There are less women that I have seen standing up in the community. I know there are women, but not as many as men. We can have the confidence, and stand up and talk to the community. I learned that from my days in the Ministry of Police, from my officer in charge. He taught us so much about engaging with people in the community, about simple ideas and how you present yourself.
Verona Parker, Marketing Manager: I find a lot of empowerment in having a female boss and colleagues that are all women. Each one, because it’s a small team of five here, we tend to have our own roles but our roles are interrelated so it’s important to keep communication open. I think the fact that we can have that open communication is really good amongst us women. We are all mothers, we do have a lot of commitments in our homes. You can imagine it is a juggle for our young mothers to be here on time, finding out their child is sick and giving up time to look after sick kids. The fact that we’re able to take up the others responsibility to help each other is a good thing.
Gardenia Betham, Finance Officer: I am always trying to put things in order for everyone. Since I am the finance and admin, I have to make sure everything has got things prepared for their day and they have all the tools they need to do their work properly. Mothers are always the people who put things together in their family. They prepare the children for school, they prepare their lunches, as an example. I do feel like it is a womanly thing to always want to be organised and have things prepared for other people.
Do you have any women role models?
Tiana: My Avele College Principal, Aiga Esera. She can talk to us students like children of her own. She can scold us when we needed discipline; it’s not like a principal but like a mother in the family. She even shared of her life stories with us, the children. I want to be a woman who is like that; maybe I can stand up and teach other people like how she is doing. I haven’t ended up as a teacher, but I am a community educator, sharing knowledge with the community.
Gardenia: I don’t have a celebrity or anything, it’s always my mum. She’s always got so much going on at one time, and she always manages to pull through, even when she wasn’t financially equipped she always bought food for the family and she was always a hard worker. It’s also the love that she has to care for us, and the love she has for us pushes us. That’s what touches me. She cares for my daughter in New Zealand and it amazes me how much devotion she has towards her. Her whole life is my baby now, so yeah – she is my role model.
What does international women’s day mean to you?
Tiana: To me, it’s about celebrating every woman in the world, not only the ones who achieve high levels but every single woman. Every woman has different roles but they are all equal, even if you are staying at home not working. Those women still have duties, still have important tasks as women in the home. I know some men who work, who have good jobs think that women at home do nothing but to me, I know: woman at home do more. They’re not working like us, but they start working early mornings, when they wake up. They start when they boil the tea for the family. They work more hours than people who go to work, they are still working until bedtime. Even the single women at home, they’re doing a really good job. I think that’s why people are abusing women and children at home, because some men don’t recognise that, they say oh you’re not working because you’re staying home doing nothing. Men say I am the one who work, I am the one who earns the money, I am the one who feeds you, but who does all the work at home?
Verona: For me, the work doesn’t stop because it’s highlighted for a day or a week. Yes it’s great to celebrate but it would be even greater to have a moment to yourself to reflect on you own abilities, on your own strengths, where your weaknesses are, how do you strengthen those weakness in oder to be not only an impact to yourself but to the people around you? Your family, your friends, your work colleagues and the people that you serve. It’s a great impact, really. It does dawn on you at times, days like this, but the greatest gift for women is to live each day and do what they do to impact the community as a whole.
Gardenia: I guess it’s all about empowering women, right? In our culture, men direct – this is what you should do, this is your job. But women should feel empowered in the sense that they should stand up for themselves, and they should take ownership and know that just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean ‘this’ is what you should do. You can take ownership and do what men can do!
What about being a woman in Samoa makes you proud? And what could be better?
Tiana: I am really proud to be a Samoan because of the way I was raised by my family. Not every family is rich but they raise us with the love they have, even if they have simple food to eat they still have love and laughter. The respect in the culture, and how we call women the pupil of their brother’s or men’s eye, that’s why I am proud to be Samoan. I watch in the news how women from other countries, you can tell how they are treated…. I feel thankful for me as a Samoan woman, because I have that culture that can protect myself. There is abuse here but it’s not the same as other cultures.
Verona: There are a lot you can be proud of as a woman. There is also a lot that needs to be desired when it comes to appreciating a Samoan woman in the community. I do feel that with the acknowledgment that come with days like this we can help everyone else to consider women and their status in the community, and to understand what they have to offer without being discriminated against. As a Samoan woman, you do have obligations to meet but it doesn’t mean that you stand alone to fulfil those. It requires a lot of support, it could be from your spouse, your children, your family. That is the strength a Samoan woman draws on. It really comes down to the society of individuals. If those individuals are not united in the spirit to uplift inspire and support, it could be the other way round, they could choose to be violent or be the opposite of all those qualities. And that would impact greatly on the development of any woman in the community. Or any human being for that matter.
Gardenia: I have learned a lot from growing up in Samoa, it’s different from overseas. We know how to survive. Nothing is handed to you, you’re more privileged overseas, you have better education, you have better sources of income. But here, we’re underprivileged, we’re undeveloped so I guess it helps you to strive to want to be better. That makes us different.